Art for Arthritis | Creatively Fundraising for a Cure

Art for Arthritis | Creatively Fundraising for a Cure

Sakhia Hurst is a 24 year old artist from the Bronx, New York City. She was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 14. Sakhia started to use art as an outlet to channel her unique challenges she faces with arthritis. Recently, Sahkia put together, Art For Arthritis, an art show benefiting Cure Arthritis. We chatted with Sakhia to get her personal story and how she brought an idea to life at the “Art for Arthritis” show at SHRINE in New York City.

How long have you had arthritis and when were you diagnosed?

I’ve had arthritis for a little over 10 years now. I was diagnosed when I was 14 years old, right after Christmas break. It started some time after returning to school. I started feeling this unexplained pain in my left wrist along with swelling. Then I became sick and overcome with fatigue. My parents thought my wrist pain was just from playing video games too much, so I was told not to play anymore. This was highly upsetting since it was right after Christmas and I had been gifted a ton of new games!

My diagnosis didn’t come easy. I was seeing a surgeon who did numerous x-rays on my wrist that showed the cartilage disappearing between the bones in my wrist but he could not come to a conclusion as to why this was happening. I even had an MRI done on my wrist which I will never forget because at this time I was so sick and fatigued that I was delighted to be able to lay still for hours and sleep as the machine scanned my wrist. Still not finding the answer, the surgeon decided to perform a bone fusion surgery on my wrist which could leave my wrist immobile.

Right before going in to surgery, my results from a blood test showed that I had the rheumatoid factor. From there, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, but the form I had was closer to full blown adult rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I was given a cortisone injection in my wrist and sent home. I was too young and in pain to fully comprehend what almost happened, but the doctor almost performed unnecessary surgery on me for something that I feel was kind of an obvious diagnosis now that I know how arthritis works. But it did not happen and I was able to receive proper treatment with an amazing Rheumatologist. Her name was Dr. Patricia Irigoyen. To this day, I still consider her the best I’ve ever worked with and I’m so grateful for her.

Do you tell people that you have arthritis? Why or why not? What is their reaction?

Sometimes I tell people, but only in work settings where I have to explain why I need to sit down or why I’m walking slowly. Things like that. Otherwise, I don’t bring it up. I try to push myself to do what I would normally do because arthritis or not, I still have goals and a life I want to live. This does get me into trouble though, as I tend to wear myself out a lot. I am actually not confident in working full time anymore. I’ve worked since I was 18 years old and I can say I’ve had varying levels of pain all throughout those years. If you look at my work history you’ll notice me bouncing from full time to slowly declining in to part time… I am currently working towards a job with NYC Department of Education as an art educator not only because I want to teach art, but also because they offer medical benefits. My medications are crazy expensive and without them, there’s no way Ill be able to work a 40 hour week.

As far as people’s reactions to my RA, it’s funny because I almost always get “but you’re so young!” It’s crazy how many people don’t know that RA can affect people of all ages. This belief has also impacted my work life, as I’ve had terrible managers who assumed that because I was a young pretty face, that I was perfectly healthy. I once had a boss have me on my feet for an entire shift with no break. I was young and it was my first job so I didn’t have the confidence I have now. The person I am now would have dropped everything I’m doing, clocked out and taken my break and dared any manager to say something to me. My health comes first. These experiences are great though, because I am a constant reminder that you should not judge a person by what they appear to be on the outside. I fight through my pain and fatigue, but at the end I still have pain and fatigue.

What is a typical day like for you? What do you feel from your arthritis on a daily basis?

It depends on if my treatment is working and if I am outside on my feet. There was a time I was on Enbrel and working part time and I felt pretty good. I almost forgot I had RA. But this was a very brief moment in time. For the past few years, it’s always the same. The days I spend at home relaxing are the days I feel the best. The days I have to work for 8 hours are the days I feel achy. If my meds are working, the aches are somewhat normal for having worked all day. If they aren’t working, I’m in pain. I’m generally always feeling fatigued which is something I’m still trying to figure out. I’ve been on Humira for about a year and it hasn’t been working 100% so I believe this is why I feel that constant fatigue.

What are you going to school for?

I’m currently an Art Education Major at the City College of New York. I graduate in 2017 and I’m working towards getting my teachers certification at CCNY as well.

When did you first get into art?

I’ve been drawing all my life. My mom told me as a kid she would buy me all different kinds of coloring activity books and I’d happily color all day. I didn’t start taking it seriously until I was 12 years old. I met my then best friend, who did these drawings of girls that I really loved. She showed me her basic technique and I just took off on my own journey. I remember her saying how I caught up to her skill level in such a short amount of time. I loved drawing because I had (and still have) a vast imagination and finally found an outlet. Everything was art from that point on…I just paint/draw whatever I see in my mind. There’s an entire world in my head.

Does art help you cope with arthritis? If so, how?

Art can be therapeutic for my arthritis as it gives me a distraction from it. It can be overwhelming thinking about all these medications in my body, health insurance, joint damage, etc. It’s nice to forget about all that while focusing on how to draw a hand correctly, what colors will make my next piece pop, or creating a story. I just get so immersed in what I’m doing that I’m distracted from all my concerns for a little while. It’s also calming to know that everything I create will be something to leave behind to show that arthritis never stopped me.

What do you hope to communicate through your art?

This is me, this is my story. This is who I am. I’m a girl trying to navigate her way through this world and see what it’s all about. This is something that I’m going to do and nothing, not even my arthritis, will stop me.

How did you come up with the idea for “Art For Arthritis”?

I always wanted to have my own gallery show for my art. So when I started planning it, I thought to myself: “why am I doing this? What’s the big reason?”

Then it hit me. I have arthritis. Time to turn the thing I saw as a negative for so long in to my greatest ally. I can use both my talent and my arthritis to do something great. I talked to my mom about the idea and she loved it. She said “do your art for arthritis.” The road paved itself out from that moment on. I am an artist with arthritis.

Black and white photography above by Diannalynn Ramos


What did the Art For Arthritis event mean to you personally?

This event was me taking a negative and turning it into a positive. When you can do that, you win that situation. I try to live by that, never dwelling on anything. I’m all about being productive and moving forward. I also wanted to give other artists a chance to shine… When I stood up on stage to give my speech and saw the crowd of people attending my event, I couldn’t help but think to myself that my art and my arthritis together did this. This event was me taking back my power, realizing my potential and cherishing how important it is to have a community.

What would you tell others who are looking to put on a similar event?

Ignore your doubts. I woke up one day and felt like I needed a purpose. I needed to do something big this summer. Just by doing that and putting it out there, it happened. As long as you’re determined and know what you want, you can get it done.

Does Sakhia’s Art For Arthritis even inspire you? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. There are several ways to support research through the ANRF. Find out more and donate today.

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